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Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012 01:55 am

Borscht

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Aside from pickling, the best-known beet preparation has long been borscht, a soup that originated in Eastern Europe and Russia. It’s particularly associated with Ashkenazi Jews (Jews who live in or whose ancestors came from those areas), so much so that the area in upstate New York with numerous summer resorts that was a popular vacation spot for NYC Jews from the 1920s-1960s was known as The Borscht Belt, not least because Jews were excluded from many other vacations spots. The movie Dirty Dancing was set there.

Borscht is one of those dishes that has as many variations as there are cooks who make it – maybe even more. Though closely associated with beets, some versions don’t contain any. It can be a deeply satisfying hot soup to combat freezing winters, or refreshing, served chilled in sweltering summers. It’s a beautiful red, or an even more gorgeous pink when sour cream or yoghurt is added. It can be vegetarian or contain meat, and is easily made low calorie, low carbohydrate and/or low fat.

Leftovers freeze well, so I always make a big pot full.

  • 3 qt. beef, chicken, or vegetable stock or broth, low sodium if purchased
  • 3 lbs. red beets, cooked and diced, about 6 cups
  • 1 1/2 c. diced onion, preferably red
  • 2-4 minced garlic cloves, or more or less to taste
  • 6-8 shredded cabbage, loosely packed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Optional additions, cut into bite-sized pieces:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. beef suitable for stewing, such as chuck or 1 lbs. smoked sausage
  • Vegetables, up to 2 c. each, no more than 3 or 4 types: potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, canned or fresh, parsnips, celery, turnips, rutabagas


To serve:

  • Sour cream or thick yoghurt
  • Snipped fresh dill
  • Thinly sliced scallions

Bring the stock to a boil in a large pot. Add the meat, if using, and the vegetables. Bring the mixture back to a boil, then reduce to a slow simmer and cover the pot.

Simmer for at least 40 minutes. If using the beef, check that it is completely tender; if not, simmer until it is.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, then serve in individual bowls, topped with a dollop of sour cream or yoghurt and sprinkled with dill and scallions.

Makes a gallon or more.
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